The Daily Princetonian - The facts behind 'Fiction' and its premiere at McCarter
The facts behind 'Fiction' and its premiere at McCarter

S.E. Grant
Princetonian Arts Writer

The world premiere of Steven Dietz's "Fiction" on March 25th elicited both a thunder of applause and quite a few pensive airs from the audience. Dietz has had much success over the past twenty years with plays such as "Private Eyes,""God's Country" and "Still Life with Iris." "Fiction" is another such feather in his cap.

Directed by David Warren, the puzzle pieces of "Fiction" —the facts behind the fiction and lies of the characters' lives— fit together. Michael and Linda (Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robins) are both striking individuals and talented writers with an unusually honest marriage.

But, as Linda reads Michael's journals she discovers how little she knows about her husband, and how the honesty in their relationship is actually fictitious.

By delving into Michael's journals, Linda learns not only  how difficult it is to die with a secret, but also how much worse it is to live with one.

Cuccioli and Robins' brilliant performances are striking  at first as just that: performances. Their carefully wrought dialogue fits together almost too eloquently.

But as the drama unfolds in Michael's journals, the charades the characters play surface.

The "Michael" that Linda knows is a make believe character  — one that Michael has invented himself. As Michael's personal thoughts are read aloud, Linda finds he is haunted by a past she never knew about.

Robert Cuccioli artfully portrays Michael's creative personality while also impressing the audience with his building anxiety as his journals are read, and as Abby (Marianne Hagan) reenters the picture.

Abby, a mutual acquaintance of Michael and Linda's,  provides several missing pieces to the puzzle with a strong performance of sardonic tenderness.

As Michael reminisces about meeting Linda, her fiery and energetic personality is a driving force, thanks to Robins' performance.

Robins brings an energy to her character that plays through in her disappointment and frustration as she getsfurther into Michael's journals. The more Linda learns, the more the trust in her relationship dwindles. She finds that Michael lied to her . . . and to himself.

While their marriage falls apart and as the different puzzle pieces of their pasts come together, the set mirrors this.

The pieces of the set gracefully slide apart and together, shifting back and forth as the facts Linda unearths replace the fiction she knew.

The set breaks apart as Linda and Michael's marriage does, but also manages to slide back into place as the facts begin to fit together.

All of the pieces finally fall into place when Michael gets the opportunity to read Linda's journals. In Linda's journals, Michael finds a candid self-portrait of the woman he loved.

And yet, Linda has a startling secret, too. When personal thoughts are revealed, apparently no one is without surprises. In "Fiction," Dietz toys with the human fascination with  private thoughts.

As Cuccioli, Hagan, and Robins vitalize the intricacies of Dietz's characters, Fiction communicates the way the past can haunt the present — a communication Linda and Michael cannot achieve without the medium of their journals.

Both writers of fiction, Linda and Michael do not realize that they really are living a fiction until they share the truth.

Just as Linda and Michael find one another's journals to be page turners, the audience is drawn into the story with the actors.

Dietz creates a mystery without the pretense of being such, and as "Fiction" spotlights the drama of real life, he allows the audience to indulge itself in the excitement found between the covers of a journal.

A scintillating production sprinkled with sounds to mark the journey into reminiscence, "Fiction" is a feast for the audience's appetite.

As the actors perform, it becomes evident that the  characters themselves must perform for one another in order to pull of the fictions they have written into their own lives. Michael, Linda and Abby work to fit the pieces of the puzzle together in order to better understand one another.

As they do, the audience is taken in by their secrets and by its secret desire: a little gossip.

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